I have worked in eleven schools in four districts with twelve administrators. One conclusion I’ve reached: Nothing affects school atmosphere more than the principal.
I don’t want that to be true. I want to say, “It’s the staff! The students! The coffee!” How can so much rest on one?
But it’s the inescapable reality. I’ve read many books on educational leadership—and they all seem over-thought. So I’ve decided to simplify things by creating my own rubric. I call it “The Four Types of Principals”:
********************* Old School New School
(If anyone can tell me how to insert a chart into a blogpost, I’d be grateful! This will have to do.)
Bottom left, we have Old School Organized—a.k.a., the Dictator. “I have a clear mandate. The only time I will need to talk to you is when you’ve broken a rule or when I introduce a new Protocol. Oh–and you will teach phonics. From this book.” The best thing about these principals is that they run a tight assembly. The drawback is that you may have to redo your report cards four times.
Top left, we have Old School Disorganized—a.k.a., Slightly Senile Uncle Frank. According to Frank, “Kids basically teach themselves. Also, if I don’t answer the phone, that person will go away. Here, have a candy.” The best thing about working for Uncle Frank is that you never have to hand in year plans. The worst part is that he may not show up to supervise the year-end camping trip like he promised.
Top right, we have Disorganized Mr. Innovation—a.k.a., the Well-intentioned Professor. “This thirty page handout is an elegant summary of current practices and research in Scandinavian countries. Note that (mumble, mumble) is forty percent more likely (mumble) which perhaps goes without saying—ha ha.” The best thing about these administrators is that they’re often gone to committee meetings or conferences. The drawback is that even when they’re in the building, you’ll still be doing all your own discipline.
Bottom right, we have the Organized Innovator. This is the rarest of them all—someone who is up-to-date and on-the-ball. This is the administrator who focuses on several thoughtful initiatives and follows through on promises to kids, teachers and parents. This is the person who orders chairs for the Christmas Concert, remembers to come, has a speech prepared, helps clean up, and is then invited to go out for drinks with the staff. This is the administrator who backs up her teachers when things get tough. This is the one who doesn’t ignore inconvenient truths but faces them with straightforward common sense, the one who makes difficult decisions. She is utterly dependable, the bedrock of the school. No one can imagine the school without her.
This is, in fact, my administrator. Her name is Diane McGonigle, and she’s part mentor, part mom, part Mother Teresa. She is the linchpin. Yes, we have strong players on our team, and yes, leadership is distributed. But it is so comforting to know that there’s a competent co-pilot. We’re not driving this thing alone.
So this Friday night, after an insane week, I salute all administrators who have the often thankless job of running schools. Even Uncle Frank—although I have the feeling he’s probably already asleep.